Skip to main content
Pop digests
Pop Digest

When are you giving me grandchildren?

Gender differences on the role grandparents play on their children´s family planning

Grandfather raising baby into the air


Source: Johnny Cohen 

Can intergenerational solidarity and particularly childcare provided by grandparents have an impact on the fertility intentions of parents? Peter Eibich (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research) and Thomas Siedler (University of Potsdam) look at this question by exploring data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) from 1984 to 2017. Their study is published in the journal European Economic Review.

Their results indicate that 42 percent of mothers with children aged 0–13 years benefit from grandparent childcare, with an average of almost 12 hours per week that grandparents spend with their children. The early retirement of grandparents plays a significant role in their children’s probability of having a baby, particularly when they live nearby and when grandfathers enter into early retirement. The retirement of grandmothers has less of an impact, potentially due to the fact that they often work part-time in Germany and spend time with the family even before they retire.

In turn, one year after grandfathers take early retirement, the probability that their children will have a second child increases by 17 percent. Grandmothers look after grandchildren for, on average, half an hour per workday. When they retire, this time doubles to almost one hour per workday. Grandfathers, on the other hand, do not necessarily spend more time with their grandchildren after their retirement, but they do take on other tasks, especially on weekends. The data suggest that although grandmothers tend to spend more time with their grandchildren, the retirement of grandfathers in Germany has a greater impact on the probability of parents having a second child than that of grandmothers. One reason for this is that their husband’s retirement frees up additional time for grandmothers to care for their grandchildren.

At the end of the day, these positive effects of intergenerational time transfers do not mean that parents have more children in total. Instead, people decide to postpone, where they ensure that the timing of having their child coincides with grandparent’s retirement. However, fertility and retirement decisions are influenced by their context. As early retirement schemes are being scaled back or no longer being offered, grandparents may not be able to provide support. Additionally, postponing fertility is not always possible, demonstrating that current policies for sustainable pension systems can be both a benefit and disadvantage for families.  

Thus, the benefits of early retirement schemes in terms of family policies have to be carefully weighed against their consequences, particularly concerning social policies meant to provide sustainable old-age provision and pension schemes. While the study looks at gender differences in terms of grandparents’ engagement, their place of residence and labour market access, more research is needed to understand the effects on other sociodemographic characteristics such as educational attainment or ethnic background.

Author(s) of the original publication
Peter Eibich